Following several weeks of declines, Wyoming’s COVID-19 infections began to creep back up this week, with active cases increasing for four consecutive days.
The Department of Health, meanwhile, reported 51 additional COVID-related deaths — more than 10% of the 489 casualty tally since the pandemic’s onset.
Against this backdrop, Wyoming’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout continued at a slow pace as healthcare providers wrestled with complex logistics and a holiday lull. As of Thursday, the state had administered 9,085 first-dose shots, only 39% of the 25,775 vaccinations it has received, according to the DOH. Some 526 second-dose shots had also been given.
“We want people to understand that administering doses of these vaccines is not as simple as just opening a box and handing something out,” Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said in an email. “There are unique challenges such as cold storage requirements and timing and other details about doses within vials and other issues to be planned for so that nothing is wasted.” Scheduling was also difficult over the holidays, she added.
“We expect to continue increasing the numbers of vaccines administered compared to the number of vaccines received to improve quite a bit as we move along,” Deti wrote.
With Wyoming’s infection rate and hospitalization numbers down from the late-November peak, Gov. Mark Gordon lifted some restrictions on bars and restaurants.
Gordon extended the state’s mask mandate, however, as well as a gathering limit of 10 people.
The governor saw pushback. Some 400 protesters gathered Monday at the Capitol in Cheyenne to rally against Gordon and pandemic health orders.
Former lawmaker Scott Clem organized the rally. During the event, protesters called Gordon a tyrant and burned masks. Protesters also gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday, the day a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., though in Cheyenne they remained peaceful.
Wyoming’s COVID-19 spike began to ebb shortly before Gordon issued the mask mandate Dec. 7. Infections slowed dramatically through December and hospitalizations fell, but it was the deadliest month by far with 223 COVID-19 related deaths reported. That’s a 27% increase from November, the second-deadliest month.
Though overall infection numbers remain far below the high point, they did slowly rise this week. After plummeting from a high of nearly 12,000 to just over 1,000, known active cases crept up to 1,784 by Thursday morning.
All told, Wyoming has tallied 39,476 lab-confirmed infections. That includes 1,466 new cases this week.
On Jan. 1, hospitalizations fell below 100 for the first time since late October. By Thursday, the DOH reported 112 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state.
Gordon cited fewer hospitalizations as one reason for lifting his curfew on bars and restaurants, and thanked Wyoming residents for acting to slow the spread.
“These have not been easy times for anyone,” Gordon said in a statement. “We are not out of the woods yet, but continued personal safety measures while the vaccine is being distributed will enable our state’s schools and businesses to continue to remain open.”
Reports from around the state suggest mixed results when it comes to vaccination. In Jackson, Teton County Health Officer Travis Riddell deemed the first phase of rollout a success.
“In Teton County we have received a total allotment of 1,075 vaccines,” he wrote in a Dec. 31 Facebook post. “As of the close of business on December 30 we had given a total of 1,160 doses, or 107% of our allotment. (The reason we have exceeded 100% is due to extra doses found in some vials of the Pfizer vaccine.)”
More than 94% of residents at the county’s two long-term-care facilities, he continued, had received first doses. “This phenomenal performance is due to excellent planning and execution by St. John’s Health and the Teton County Health Department,” he wrote.
In Fremont County, which has both a larger population and area, a press release hinted at challenges to predicting vaccine supply.
“Vaccine availability is more limited than previously planned for and visibility to the supply is week to week,” the release read.
Deti of the DOH said it is also true that some people offered the vaccine have chosen not to get it.
“I expect that many of those people who have turned it down are not saying no forever,” she wrote in an email to WyoFile. “I also expect confidence in the vaccines will grow overall over time. It’s understandable for many people to have questions about the vaccines, but they have been held to high standards to make sure they are safe.”